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With Brexit Vote Delay, Future Of The Deal Remains Uncertain

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

It's an understatement to say U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May is in a tough spot. She's in Brussels today trying to explain to other European leaders why she could not muster enough support to even bring the Brexit deal to a vote in the British Parliament. And while she's on the continent, many of those same members of Parliament are again talking about getting rid of her, along with the deal. To talk more about this, we go to London and George Parker of the Financial Times. Welcome back to the program.

GEORGE PARKER: Hello.

CORNISH: So May's been in The Hague - right? - in Berlin, now in Brussels. What sort of reception has she been getting along the way?

PARKER: Well, there was quite a impressive scene when she arrived at the German chancellery to meet Angela Merkel. And Mrs. Merkel was - stood on the red carpet. And there was an age where Theresa May was locked in her car, and she couldn't get out. And I think that sums up her predicament, really. She's trapped. She looks a little bit hapless at the moment. She's under fire. She's left Westminster behind, gone on this European tour in the hopes she's going to get some concessions from European leaders. And she's been met by a firm but friendly response, which is basically, look; we're not going to start on picking this deal that we've laboriously put together over the last two years, but we will try to help you. We will try to give you some assurances, which falls some way short of legal guarantees by the way, to try to help you sell this deal back at home. But whether that's enough for Theresa May is a different question.

CORNISH: Back home, disaffected members of May's Conservative Party are, as we said, talking about just plain getting rid of her. How close are they to actually doing that?

PARKER: Well, they keep saying they're very, very close or indeed are so close that they've actually got the required 48 signatures from Conservative MPs to trigger a vote of confidence in Theresa May. But they've been saying that for quite a while. And you sometimes have to take these things with a pinch of salt. The reason they're pulling back, even though there's sort of widespread dismay at Theresa May's handling of Brexit, is because if they remove Theresa May now, they would simply overlay a constitutional crisis in the U.K. with a political crisis with the Tory Party having a contest to find a new leader. The party would be plunged into civil war. And at the end of it, we'd end up with a new prime minister facing exactly the same predicament as Theresa May in the House of Commons, and it will solve nothing. It will be a act of huge and damaging self-indulgence, I think.

CORNISH: Is there a sense that she may be trying to deliberately delay things? And by that, I mean, you know, as it gets closer to the March 29 deadline, you're essentially leaving MPs with the choice of, like, her deal or no deal.

PARKER: I think that's a very good way of putting it. I think she is pushing Britain closer to this cliff edge of having to leave the EU without any deal at all and the subsequent chaos that would cause to our trading relationships, the possibility that some types of food would run out in British supermarkets, and medicines could run short of supply. So the longer she leaves it, the more she's able to say to her critics, particularly the euroskeptics in her party, look; you know, it's my deal or no deal at all. And if you want the country to be plunged into economic chaos and for the Conservative Party to be blamed for years to come for images of people queuing round the block at supermarkets, well, be my guest. So you're right. Playing for time actually does help her.

CORNISH: Over the last few days, we've been seeing images of her being booed in Parliament. This image today you mentioned of her, like, not being able to unlock her car door to get out, I mean, talk a little bit about her political personality. I mean, how is she handling the pressure of the situation?

PARKER: Well, remarkably well. I mean, it's one of Theresa May's greatest virtues as a politician is that she's just keeps going on. She's dogged. She's determined. She's got a real sense of duty. And it's interesting that although the Brexit deal she's negotiated seems to upset just about everyone, she herself has actually gone up in the public estimation over the last few weeks. I think people see her standing there hour after hour in the bear pit at the House of Commons being attacked by people on her own side - mainly men, it has to be said. And I think it - her sort of doggedness actually resonates with people. So although she's often seen as rather an unimaginative politician and just really blundering her way through this Brexit morass, in the end, people quite respect the fact that she's still there and she's still standing.

CORNISH: George Parker is the Financial Times political editor. Thank you for speaking with ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

PARKER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.